At the time of this writing, I am currently a full month “behind schedule.” It is Week 11 of my sabbatical, and I’m finally publishing the takeaways from weeks 6 and 7. Of course, these deadlines are completely arbitrary and self-imposed; yet, the challenge of maintaining a steady rhythm of publishing is revealing. It reveals to me several things. First, I continue to grow a deeper appreciation for professional writers, for those who have made a career out of writing things for people to read. There are countless excuses one can make to avoid writing. I have been practicing many of them over the past month. Another thing this challenge is exposing is my perfectionism; this blog has no commercial purpose, no “master plan,” and despite that, I still hesitate to hit the little “Publish” button. Self-doubt and perfectionism creep in. Is this really the best I can do? Did I capture all that this week offered? Is this actually written in a way that anyone will be compelled to read past the first few sentences? I am reminded that part of the journey of writing this blog, perhaps the main part, is simply to work through the struggles of a writing regimen, to pave the way for my future self and whatever he might write about.
Onward to the happenings of Weeks 6 and 7!
SETTLING IN TO A SLOWER SPEED
In the wake of our trip to Costa Rica, I think I may be starting to arrive at the slowed down speed a sabbatical can provide. I’m realizing that I no longer get what I used to call the “Sunday Angst-ies.” You know, that feeling you get when it’s Sunday afternoon and you realize you still have umpteen things you were hoping to do before the weekend is over? That feeling of, “I know I need to get a good night’s sleep tonight, but I also didn’t have as much time as I wanted to read my book or watch my show or write in my journal or insert-hobby-here, so now I have to choose between sleep deprivation and my own little slice of me time.” The Sunday Angsties used to hit me hard, but not anymore. The weekends are now just another day that ends in “y,” and the great part about this is that I can equally enjoy every day of the week. There is no added pressure to do certain things on certain days. It’s liberating.
For example, it was 2pm on a weekday, 89 degrees outside, and I’m in the front yard sitting in a yard chair with my two naked kids in front of me. These two free birds are oscillating between gleeful sprinkler run-through’s and, once exhausted, hammock lounging. At one point, with the aid of Elton John’s “Your Song” crooning out of our portable speaker, the one kid was lulling the other into a lazy, gentle afternoon siesta by rocking the hammock straps ever so delicately. The kids weren’t just entertaining themselves, they were giving each other a nap! It’s moments like these that make me appreciate just how sweet it is to unplug from our capitalist system and simply live. Honestly, it can feel a bit like magic.
It’s happening when we have no agenda, no set structure for the day – these magic moments when we let the children lead the way. Society should be learning more from children. They haven’t learned all of its harmful norms yet. They are free thinkers, free beings, unbound by the ways adults have learned they are “supposed” to live.
This week, my one kid said aloud, while we were playing outside, “This is the best day ever.” The next day, the other kid, while being pushed in a swing, listening to Katy Perry’s “Firework,” and nude as the day they were born, asked, “Daddy, can we do this every day?”
My kids are enjoying their days to the fullest, and the only thing I am doing is being with them. Sure, I set up the sprinkler, filled up the water table, and laid out a picnic blanket, but the rest was all them and nature. We didn’t go anywhere. We didn’t buy anything new. We’ve just been living. Together. With no time table. With an undistracted parent. And they are loving it.
This accidental magic is only happening because I am creating the physical, mental, and emotional space for it to occur. It is a worthwhile endeavor to practice the creation of openness and space. Free time, open space, lack of structure – this is where the magic happens.
LETTING KIDS CHOOSE THEIR OWN EDUCATIONAL ADVENTURE
People learn better when they are genuinely interested in something. I’ve been embracing the approach of waiting – waiting until one of my kids shows an interest in something and then diving in and following that interest as far as it will go.
For example, our local beach has a concession stand. We typically bring our own snacks to the beach, but let’s face it – it’s pretty tantalizing for a kid to see other kids devouring cold, creamy, icy treats on a hot summer day. Our kids have a little money in their piggy banks, but up until now, they’ve shown no interest in money. Fake money and real money have been the same to them – toys. In a world of online shopping and credit cards, no wonder it’s hard for kids to grasp the concept of money these days. But the concession stand is cash only, and all of a sudden – click! Now money is very interesting. This has then spurred numerous “lessons” where we sort and count coins, learn about the difference between cents and dollars, what money is used for, and so on. When we had counted up the one kid’s coins, it added up to two dollars. They considered the sum, frowned, and said, “Dad, I don’t think I have enough.” <PAUSE> Talk about a zinger! My entire journey leading me to sabbatical, trying to figure out when to quit my job, worrying about the uncertainty of what will come next… all of this has revolved around the question of “How much is enough?” After months of asking myself this question, let me tell you – this is not an easy question to answer! Somehow, I regained my composure and formulated a response. <RESUME> I replied, “How much do you think you would need to have to feel like you have enough?” After a beat, they commented, “I want to have enough so that I can buy ice cream at the beach.” Fair enough, kiddo. So I went to my jar of coins and doubled their “life savings” to four dollars. And yes, the next time we went to the beach, they blew about 3/4 of their life savings on ice cream. And it was the best money they’d ever spent.
On another occasion, I was out on our deck in the pre-breakfast morning with one of my kids, and they saw a tiny ant crawling on the bristles of one of our water toy paintbrushes. They were showing an interest, so I took an interest. We stared at and talked about this tiny ant for a good five or ten minutes. We talked about how it uses antennae to navigate its surroundings. We discussed that even though it’s small, its size doesn’t mean it’s necessarily a baby. Lessons that would have less likely sunk in had I been the one dictating when and what we’re going to learn about.
It’s also an all-around win to set up play “stations” and let the kids do as they please. Water is the absolute best toy on the planet. We paint with it. We dunk stuff in it. We funnel it. We watch water race down the slanted driveway. They wash my car for me. They wash their own bicycles and scooters. They learn what wet socks feel like. And with water, there’s no such thing as making a mess! We’re blessed to live in an area where water is abundant, and we do our best to limit our water waste (haven’t watered our grass in years) and teach the kids how water is a precious resource (e.g. once the buckets are empty, we’re not filling them back up). But if we are going to do some messy, unstructured, outdoor play, I’d much rather them spill a little water than be plowing through any other toy or material that needs to be made or purchased. Water for the win!
It was thoroughly fun to observe the urgency which with my kids made “Chocolate Stew” inside the water table. Yes, they’re choosing the less-than-ideal location of directly underneath the swings as their digging site for sourcing soil (one of Chocolate Stew’s two main ingredients). Sure, they’re wasting a bit of water that carelessly splashes over the side of the water table as they enthusiastically pour more solvent into their mixture. Yet, they are working together. They are creating and then solving many little problems in rapid succession. I am not involved in any way, and, for multiple consecutive minutes, I am able, within eyesight of them, to… wait for it… sit down. Miracle!
I am coming to realize that being a witness to and playmate of my kids is a big part of what the summer phase of this work hiatus is about.
CHOOSING NATURE OVER BREAKFAST SANDWICHES
One day this week I dropped off my kids for a three-hour gymnastics camp. What I chose to do with this time was to walk a total of five miles on the nearby trail system. I left the car in the parking lot of the gymnastics building (located in an industrial park) and walked until I was on the trail system, and I kept walking until I came upon the closest lake. Why? Why am I pulled in the direction of nature? Of movement? I love being with what I already have. Accepting that what I am and what I have is enough.
I know full well what Pre-Sabbatical Kevin would’ve done with this morning of freedom. He would have hopped in the car, driven to the nearest cafe, and dropped $20 on a breakfast sandwich and espresso that he didn’t need. He would’ve done so to “treat himself” for all of the “hard work” he was doing throughout the week, to “make the best of this precious ‘me time.’”
But instead, Sabbatical Kevin took in some fresh air, moved his body, worked up an actual appetite, and later enjoyed a healthy homemade lunch together with his kids.
While on the morning walk, I identified five plant and bird species using the Seek app. I continue to be mildly obsessed with this app that identifies any species you can take a picture of. Why am I so intrigued by this? For one, there is a lot to learn about the world around us, a lot that I don’t know! But I also sat with this question for a bit and came up with the following:
Things have names. Names have meaning. Meaning is information. Information is power. Power is control. Control is security. Security is comfort. Comfort is peace. So… By knowing something’s name, it brings me peace.
RECONNECTING AFTER ALMOST 20 YEARS
When I announced my sabbatical to my social media circle, I included a statement that spending more time with friends and family is at the top of my priority list, and that for whoever was reading this, it meant I wanted to be social with them. One person took me up on it. In this time of non-work, I was grateful to have a reason to set the alarm for 530am, feel the crisp morning air, and see the sunrise. We got a few miles of running in around the Mississippi River and got each other caught up on life after high school. Thanks for the quality time, Jenna Strain Lutz!
KID QUOTES OF THE WEEK
- “Can we have this day every day?”
- “Can we do this tomorrow?”
- (Six hours after gymnastics camp was over, out of nowhere) “My gymnastics was FUN.”
- (Recanting a memory) “Yeah Dad, I heard you snoring last year. I heard it and I was like, ‘Excuse me, sir, what are you *doing* to that woman?’”
- (Explaining to our family) “If you want someone to help, ask your superhero Dad to help!”